Does Broad Match Have a Place in a Well Run AdWords Campaign?

  • adwords
  • adwords


Broad Match is much maligned. Often considered enemy number one in grand PPC profitability theft, we've worked with clients who have raised more than an eyebrow on the suggestion that broad match keywords should be present in their account.

Certainly Broad Match's reputation is not without substance. Many an account has had its budget decimated by the existence of an ill-conceived broad match general term.

Once the surface is scratched however, it is often found that it is less the match type that has caused the problems and more the lack of research and monitoring.

If left unchecked, broad match keywords can easily undermine a PPC account. The reason for this is their liberal approach to the concept of matching. Rearranged phrases and plurals will all be attracted by broad match as will potential synonyms. It's often these 'related search phrases' which cause the trouble. For example, this was returned on a girls' school's PPC campaign:

Broad Match Keyword Search Term

"Private Girls College" "College Girls Live Chat"

Putting aside any speculation as to the content of "college girls live chat" conversations (surely it's just A-level revision and hockey...!?), there is clearly a serious mismatch between keyword and search term.

And yet amongst the confusion sits enlightenment, dear readers...

I found the following search phrase when checking the search terms for the broad match keyword 'tin signs':

"classic nostalgia sign Thomas Crapper steal metal advertising wall plaque 41cm x 29cm vintage toilet sign"

Now the above search does not specifically reflect the triggered keyword. Without broad matching the ad would not have shown for this search. By running the keyword as a broad match, not only have we potentially gained a customer we may otherwise have missed, we have also gained a greater insight into customer search behaviour and potential additional keyword ideas.

The above search alone suggests a number of further keyword possibilities including (but not restricted to):

"metal wall plaques"

"steel metal signs"

"vintage metal signs"

"classic metal signs"

"nostalgia signs"

"vintage advertising signs"

"vintage toilet signs"

Some of these keywords, we could be expected to be using and others, for example 'vintage toilet signs' may not attract huge quantities of traffic. Still not bad for one individual search!

As well as providing additional keyword ideas, broad matching serves another purpose. Collectively, a detailed picture is created of search term frequency. We begin to learn how often the keyword is entered in its exact form; what the most common related phrases are and what the ratio of exact to long tail searches is likely to be. This is important information which helps use to refine the advertising campaign and is not available if only exact matching is used.

Exact matching can only ever tell you what you already know – it will reassure you that you're only attracting your chosen searches but it will never tell you what you're missing.

Other matching types do also provide insight. Phrase match and the recently introduced enhanced broad match allow for searches to be attracted which do not specifically match the targeted keyword. However, whilst, both types have their value, it should be noted that neither "tin signs" or 'tin+signs' would have been triggered by the above search.

The way to successfully use broad matching is to ensure it is tightly controlled by a methodical monitoring and cleaning process.

This match type should also be considered in the context of the overall account structure.

To start, it's worthwhile creating a fully researched and expanded campaign. Although broad matches offer a catch-all facility, a good PPC campaign should still be broken out to cover as many envisaged keyword possibilities. This way, the ads are more likely to be targeted to the search terms. It also means that insight provided by broad matches will lead to campaign refinements rather than wholesale revision.

Having conversion tracking in place is vital. This is a fundamental requirement of effective PPC management in general but in the context of broad match keyword analysis, conversions gained will register against the search term, not just the keyword, allowing greater value attribution.

Judgement does need to be applied when choosing to broad match. Large volume general terms in broad match carry a high risk factor. One or two of these keywords could easily devour the vast majority of searches (and budget!) and not give the remaining longer tail search terms a chance to show. As a rule of thumb, multiple word keyword phrases and lower volume keywords tend to be good broad match candidates.

Procedurally, broad matching can be seen as stage one of a refinement programme that will lead to a larger, more tightly defined keyword list. In theory, broad match would provide data which would lead to the creation of a campaign only containing exact match keywords; all ads shown would exactly reflect the keywords/searches and the greatest likelihood of advertising success would be achieved.

In practice, this is impossible. We may be able to learn what the majority of searchers do online but the random factor will not disappear. The search engines reflect human diversity and the only way to capture our infinite ways of saying something with exact match would be to have an infinite number of exact match keywords.

So broad matching has its place. Limited, monitored, controlled and managed maybe but it's there nonetheless.

If mishandled, broad match can certainly pose a risk to the success of an advertising campaign. When employed correctly, however, broad match is the most illuminating of the bunch and who couldn't use a little more illumination?